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Thursday, February 16

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line 

Here are some more thoughts on "Cars" based on what I saw last weekend at Wondercon. I've noticed a lot of traffic from Cartoon Brew regarding the Pixar segment of my last post.

One of the biggest things that convinced me to check the movie out this fall is the Pixar's continued attention to detail on many levels. This is something I'm sure fans have come to expect from Pixar over the years. On first blush, this tradition seems to apply to "Cars" as well.

According to the members of the panel, film director and writer John Lasseter is a huge car/racing fan and that fever spread to the rest of the "Cars" team. I'm not a racing fan, but I think many of the film's details would please racing enthusiasts as well as the general public. Who doesn't love a snobbish tire salesman who quickly loses interest in a driver because he's not in the F-1 circuit?

I was hoping the guys from the "Car Talk" radio show would be in the movie (well, they are according to IMDb.

When I saw the teaser last year, I thought the cars were extremely similar to the Chevron Cars used to peddle gasoline. Looking at both of them now, a lot of differences become apparent (aside from the different animation styles).

For the Chevron campaign, the headlights double as eyes and it makes sense -- the cars hold human passengers. For "Cars," the front windshields make up the eyes. That difference wasn't readily apparent in the teaser poster.

While windshield eyes look a little odd at first, it makes sense because the cars _are_ the only inhabitants in this world (as a panelist pointed out). Looking at the giant windshield eyes, I thought about the giant eyes on bit characters (literally) in the "Reboot" TV series.

Still anything is better than those freaky half-fish, half-people used in the Will Smith movie last year.

It's great that Pixar can base many of the characters on classic automobiles, according to the panel. It seems a lot of automakers are reluctant to license their vehicles to things such as video games. Other characters were based on original designs.

A panelist said the personalities of the characters were often based on the type of cars. Hot rod car = upstart racing rookie. Mini vans = soccer parents. And so on.

When the cars are racing in the movie's opening moments, there's a tremendous amount of detail. The animators had a TV director who oversees NASCAR broadcasts show the team where he would place the cameras in the CGI stadium and the shots he would use as if it were real. Then the animators asked the director for his "fantasy" shots -- those he would use if it was physically possible. I think the angles used in the opening sequence is a good balance of the TV-based angles and the fantasy shots which would likely show up in a movie anyway (paging "Days of Thunder").

The rendering in the stadium looked really strong. The speedy blurs of the surrounding environment as the cars zoom across the track. There is tremendous detail in the cars themselves as they reflect direct light upon them. This shine is a marked contrast to the Silly-Puttyish look of the Chevron cars, which I think is Claymation or some similar technique.

Small details showed up in the forgotten, dusty Route 66 town where our brash, young protagonist is stranded. I smiled when I noticed the "teepees" at the roadside motel where actually traffic pylons (or cones). A panel member pointed out that the ridges surrounding this town are modeled on old Cadillac tail fins.

These nice touches, along with some lighthearted humor, will likely enhance the story involving a racing rookie seeking to win the championship before getting waylaid in the town on Route 66. It seems like a coming-of-age story that, again, is something Pixar excels in.

The thing I'm most looking forward to about this film is its multi-level approach to entertaining audiences. I count at least four levels, based on the trailers and promotional materials I've seen:

1. Surface level -- Cute story, nice animation, fun kids' movie.
2. Gearhead level -- The inside jokes and details revolving around cars are innumerable. Most of these will go over my head, because I don't know a lot about cars, but my husband is having a ball pointing out details.
3. Route 66 level -- This is my level. Being a diehard roadie, I'm having a ball looking at the winks and nods to my favorite people and places along 66. The better you know the road, the more you'll see.
4. Characterization level -- One of the characters in the film is voiced by a dear friend of mine. Somehow, they managed to find a car that actually sort of *looks* like him. I can't wait to see how many of his mannerisms they've transferred to the car. I'm sure they were equally attentive to the other characters; I imagine anyone familiar with the actors voicing this film will have a ball finding all the ways the human performers' quirks show up in their characters.
Those are all very good points. Working on different levels is something that Pixar does well. I'm looking forward to seeing the execution in "Cars" this year.
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